David Baker worked with Frank Zappa and the MOI at the Apostolic Studios in New York in the 1960s.
David Baker, 58, Prolific Recording Engineer
By STEPHEN MILLER Staff Reporter of the Sun
David Baker, who died of an apparent heart attack July 14, was a recording engineer who participated in more than 2,000 recording sessions and remastered the entire Vanguard catalog for release on CD.
Renowned within the recording industry for his devotion to naturalistic sound, he worked with a broad range of musicians after getting his start with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at Apostolic Studios in New York in the 1960s. He also released a collection of field recordings he made of songs and voices of the civil rights movement, collected in the Mississippi Delta in 1965.
Among those whom he recorded were Al Di Meola, Shirley
Horn, Astor Piazzolla, John Zorn, Larry Coryell, Sun Ra,
George Clinton, Parliament and Funkadelic, and the Moody Blues. In a biographical essay, the musician Eugene Chadbourne wrote, "The obvious question is whether David Baker still has time left to exist outside the recording studio."
Baker grew up in Atlanta and became fascinated with recording technology as a boy. Baker's grandfather was a salesman for Columbia Records in the late 1920s, and his father ran a large stereo dealership in Atlanta. Baker Audio also housed an AM/FM radio station and became known as "The House that Music Built." Baker at age 6 began accompanying his father on jobs installing large stereos.
According to Baker's sister, Karen Hartrampf, Baker made his first serious recording when he was 10 or 11, of Elvis Presley singing on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956. The recording was made with a handheld microphone on an antiquated wire recorder. "We played it and played it and played it, and it broke, but it was a pretty good recording for those days," Ms. Hartrampf recalled.
Later that year, Baker's parents were killed in an automobile accident, and Baker and his four sisters were raised by relatives.
While still in his teens, Baker began making amateur recordings of orchestras and jazz bands, and coordinated sound engineering for the annual Atlanta Arts Festival. In 1965, he headed to Mississippi, where he made recordings of demonstrations, meetings, and sermons. The recording, "Movement Soul," was re-issued earlier this month on CD by the Library of Congress.
"People are getting beat up, and they can't vote," Baker said on NPR on July 2. "The church became the place to talk about it."
Baker studied recording at the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music and at the Institute of Audio Research in New York. In the early 1970s, he became closely associated with the avant-garde "loft jazz" movement. In 1975, he was hired as the chief engineer at Vanguard.
Over the years, Baker worked with most of the important jazz labels, including ECM, Blue Note, Atlantic, Black Saint, Soul Note, and Amulet. In 1998, he won a Grammy award for his work on the Shirley Horn recording "I Remember Miles."
In recent years, he had become interested in world music, and traveled to Indonesia to record "Pitamaha: Music from Bali." At the time of his death, he was in Rochester, N.Y., recording the Paul Smoker and Damon Short Quintet.
"It's going to be a great recording," Mr. Smoker said. "It sounds great."
Born October 12, 1945, in Mount Vernon; died July 14 in Rochester of an apparent heart attack; survived by his wife, Kyoka, and four sisters.